SAN speeds Capital FX’s DI process

Posted on March 01, 2006

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Postproduction studio combines a SAN with a shared file system to keep the workflow flowing.

By Karen Moltenbrey

With seven digital film recorders running 24x7 and more film directors requesting the impressive visual fidelity of the 4K digital intermediate (DI) process, Capital FX, a leading UK postproduction company, has to keep its workflow, well, flowing. To accomplish this, the company recently selected Silicon Graphics Inc. (SGI) as the primary provider of its storage and cross-platform networking solution in its new DI theater facility.

Housed in London’s Mayfair district, close to the heart of UK film and television production in Soho, Capital FX now has the ability to complete the film-making process-from the digitization of raw shot rushes, through color grading, dust busting, editing, special effects, compositing, and film write-out-in real time at 2K or 4K resolution.

Installing an SGI InfiniteStorage RM660 SAN with SGI InfiniteStorage Shared Filesystem CXFS software enabled Capital FX to centralize its digital workflow, allowing multiple operations to be performed simultaneously on multiple operating systems in different suites within the facility. As a result, this reduced the requirement to copy data-critical in this market, where a 90-minute feature film in 4K resolution generates 16TB of data.

One is not enough

Almost as soon as the eight-seat DI theater was operational, Capital FX realized the demand outweighed its capacity. Warner Bros.’ Charlie and the Chocolate Factory came in as a 4K project, requiring DI, color grading, and effects, plus subtitling and final output to film for versions in 21 different languages. So, the facility took a second floor in the Mayfair building, where it constructed another, much larger DI theater venue, and purchased additional SGI InfiniteStorage disk arrays and related networking hardware and software.

The expansion was, in part, to ensure Capital FX was ready to handle another major 4K DI project: Warner Bros.’ Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. The Harry Potter job included film scan to digital intermediate, effects, compositing, and color grading, with versions in different languages as well.

“With the SGI InfiniteStorage RM660 system, we were able to converge the entire workflow to work on one feature at a time, and we don’t have to copy two or three sequences to various locations on the network while different departments work and then convert the changes,” says George Ilko, IT director at Capital FX. “Initially, we selected SGI for the CXFS shared file system, which is unique to SGI, so that we all can work simultaneously.”


Warner Bros.’ Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, which required a 4K digital intermediate (DI) process, included effects, compositing, and color grading, as well as versions in different languages. With SGI’s InfiniteStorage RM660 system, Capital FX could converge the entire workflow to work on one feature at a time instead of having to copy two or three sequences to various locations on the network and then converting the changes. © Copyright 2005 Warner Bros. Pictures
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Ilko continues: “Among other factors, we also valued SGI’s GRIO [Guaranteed Rate I/O] software, which provides the ability to play back a 2K, scanned full-length feature, which is 2.5TB to 3TB of data, in real time, or a 4K scanned feature, at around 16TB of data, in real time. We run ARRI scanners, film recorders, and color-management software, in addition to Autodesk software. [With] ARRI, Autodesk, and SGI, we’ve got really good partnerships and good integration among the companies’ systems. It is a very efficient way of working.”

The DI theater at Capital FX is an Autodesk Discreet Lustre 2K/4K digital grading and color-correction system. Designed as a complete preview theater with full Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound and THX, it features a Barco D-Cine Premiere DP100 digital projector and a Kinetron film projector for side-by-side comparisons on the 8-meter-wide screen.

The SGI InfiniteStorage RM660 SAN with 20TB of capacity uses SGI’s InfiniteStorage Shared Filesystem CXFS to link to the entire facility. The DI theater, with Lustre running on Windows XP, is networked to a Discreet Smoke editing/finishing system running on a four-processor SGI Irix-based Tezro visual workstation for HD and special effects, and is also networked to the postproduction suite, which primarily runs Discreet Combustion, along with Apple’s Shake and Eyeon Software’s Digital Fusion.


Capital FX used the theater suite to finish the DI process and color grading as well as extensive original work on The Bridge, scanned in at 2K.
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Capital FX’s in-house art department, which creates original title sequences and artwork on Apple Macintosh systems, is also linked by the SGI SAN. Shared Filesystem CXFS software ensures seamless workflow between all of the suites, regardless of the operating system.

The company is in the process of adding SGI’s GRIO software for enhanced bandwidth performance. This will ensure real-time DI to film output. Capital FX protects the valuable intellectual property it works with using security solutions from Cisco throughout the facility’s IT structure. As with all the other components in the digital workflow, the security solution integrates seamlessly into the SGI SAN infrastructure.

DI…and more

With approximately 40 employees, Capital FX was founded in 1990 as a film optical house and transitioned to digital film mastering and an IT infrastructure almost six years ago. The facility’s bread and butter has always been foreign versioning title work, and it offers the only laser subtitling in the UK. Using Celco Fury recorders and SGI Octane2 systems and ArriLaser digital film recorders, the facility has the biggest film output in Europe and handles the foreign-title version for almost all the major features distributed by Walt Disney Studios, Warner Bros., Universal Studios, Sony Pictures, United International Pictures, and 20th Century Fox.

The recent addition of the DI Lustre suite with SGI RM660 storage and Shared Filesystem CXFS software has proved to be a tremendous success. Capital FX has used the theater suite to finish not only the DI and color grading, but also extensive original work on a number of releases last year, including Stealth, scanned in at 4K, and Batman Begins, Asylum, Ripley Under Ground, The Bridge, Dead Man’s Card, and V for Vendetta, all scanned in at 2K.

“With the current push for a larger-venue DI theater, SGI’s scalable Infinite-Storage disk systems provide an important benefit, allowing us to add nearline storage very quickly,” says Capital FX’s Ilko. “That’s a huge need of ours, in order to keep constantly growing the network. We’ll actually be doubling the capacity to 40TB of online storage, switching on GRIO, putting in a 68TB nearline storage device and another SGI Infinite-Storage gateway server. We’re also purchasing SGI’s Data Migration Facility [DMF], which will allow us to automatically dual-state data, meaning it is copied to online and nearline storage simultaneously as it arrives into the network. DMF also monitors the threshold of the online SGI RM660 storage, and as that gets to about 80% capacity the date is automatically migrated to more cost-effective SATA [Serial ATA] nearline storage. The scalability of the Infinite-Storage systems is also important because we’ve already run tests in 6K resolution to ensure we’re future-proofed, and 6K is an absolute monster!”

Karen Moltenbrey is senior technical editor at Computer Graphics World.


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